Iconographer Johnny Andonieh, from Bethlehem, has always been fascinated by icons of the Christian tradition. He is very skilled in making these objects so that they become an instrument of veneration and devotion on the part of the faithful. But this ability of his would never have seen the light of day without the help of Father Seraphim, responsible for the Monastery of Mar Saba for more than fifty years until his death in 2003.
From his small studio, just a few meters from the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Johnny painted icons for over 15 churches in the Holy Land, thus accumulating an experience of over 30 years.
Andonieh says, “Father Seraphim is a holy man. He lived in the desert for 65 years as a hermit. He helped me a lot, and he was the one who first pushed me into this camp. During the first Intifada, in 1987, there was no work. At that time I was attending the Monastery of Mar Saba, and there I met a monk who painted icons. I really liked what he painted, so I asked him to teach me the basics of Byzantine icon painting. So I started painting. In 1990, during the Gulf War, Cypriot painters arrived in Palestine to make some icons in the Church of the Shepherds’ Field in Bethlehem, and I worked with them. Later I had another important opportunity, when the person in charge of the monastery of Mar Saba asked me to paint inside a small chapel of the monastery, the Chapel of the Archangels: it was an important beginning, I learned a lot.”
He adds, “This is the first chapel where I painted icons, at the monastery of Mar Saba. This is located in Jericho: it is the church of St. Alexis, next to the tree of Zacchaeus. There is the church of Bethany, near the tomb of Lazarus, and the church at the Shepherds’ Field in Bethlehem. Yes, of course, it’s just a small part of the church. This, finally, is the cave of Saint John Chrysostom, also inside the monastery of Mar Saba.”